Most of us give little thought to tire safety. In fact, until one of them goes flat, we don’t think much about tires at all. In terms of both vehicle safety and driving dynamics, however, tires may well be the most important component on a motorized vehicle. Tires are a complex bit of engineering designed to maximize steering, stopping and fuel economy. Tires are the only contact your vehicle has with the road, and every single part of performance technology in your vehicle is translated into action through the four small patches of rubber meeting the pavement at any given moment. We expect tires to constantly perform, even when the vehicle is standing still.
Despite the responsibility they shoulder, tires are often neglected. Underinflated, overinflated, out of balance or just plain worn out, tires are pretty much ignored until one of them fails. Tire-monitoring systems found in new cars today further help lull owners into believing they can ignore tire pressure because the system will alert them if a tire is low. Many systems, however, don’t alert drivers of a tire-pressure issue until the tire has dropped several psi (pressure per square inch) below recommended levels.
A tire only delivers optimum performance when filled to the exact pressure recommended by the manufacturer. It also must have sufficient tread depth, but most of us don’t keep track of that either. But help is on the way. Founded in 2004 and based in the United Kingdom, WheelRight is a company specializing in tire-monitoring technology. They have developed a process for measuring the exact pressure of all four tires while the vehicle is in motion. And that’s not all.
The WheelRight System
Think of conveniently located drive-through tire-safety stations with the capability to determine psi and measure each tire’s tread depth in 7 seconds. These stations can also read the information on the tire’s sidewall, and all of this info can be emailed to you or delivered on a ticket provided by a dispensing machine. Eventually, the system will send out notices to registered consumers when tires should be rotated or replaced.
This isn’t some futuristic technology; tire-safety stations are already operational in the United States and other countries.
An 18-mile stretch of I-85 in Georgia just north of the Alabama border is known as "The Ray." Encompassing not only the highway but also the adjoining land, The Ray is a living lab for a number of transportation technologies and nature initiatives. It’s a proving ground for evolving ideas and technologies destined to transform transportation infrastructure. In the Georgia Welcome Center on northbound I-85, you’ll find the first U.S. WheelRight drive-through tire station that any visitor may utilize. You’ll also find a Kia-sponsored solar-powered electric-vehicle charging station (the first in the U.S.). There’s even a short stretch of solar-paved highway capable of generating electric power to operate streetlights and traffic signs.
What It Means To You: Checking tire pressure hasn’t been this easy since the days of full-service gas stations. It will probably be a while before these drive-through stations checking tire safety come to a facility in your neighborhood, but they will no doubt come. In the meantime, if you find yourself driving north on I-85 from Alabama, drop into the Welcome Center and check out what the future looks like.